Answers to five key questions
NATIONS CUP SPOTLIGHT: The year-end competition ended in dramatic fashion, when Owen Farrell’s penalty saw England beat France 22-19 – 15 minutes into sudden-death extra-time – to win Sunday’s final at Twickenham.
AFP Sport looks at five things we learnt from the first, and possibly only, Nations Cup.
France have real strength in depth
That France nearly won the final with a 3rd XV augurs well for the 2023 hosts’ bid for a maiden World Cup title.
Despite Les Bleus missing some 25 senior players because of a release agreement with the Top 14 clubs, novice flyhalf Matthieu Jalibert sent in Brice Dulin for a fine try as France established 13-6 lead at half-time.
They were still seven points ahead come 30 seconds from the end of normal time when England equalised through a converted try from replacement Luke Cowan-Dickie.
No wonder France flank Cameron Woki responded to fears of a mismatch by saying afterwards: “It wasn’t the French farce but the French force.”
Fiji and Georgia make their mark
It was cruel on Fiji that a tournament created when the COVID-19 pandemic tore up the rugby calendar saw them play just one match following a COVID-19 outbreak in their camp.
They finished, however with a typical flourish as wing Nemani Nadolo ran in a hat-trick during a 38-24 defeat of Georgia on Saturday.
Georgia did not win a match but improved steadily as they benefited from a rare run of games against top-class opposition, with Giorgi Kveseladze scoring one of the tries of the tournament in a 23-10 loss to Ireland.
Yet the economic considerations that saw the Nations Cup created in a bid to protect broadcast revenues, may mean the Lelos are back in the cold next year, with Six Nations chiefs having repeatedly insisted there’s no chance of Georgia replacing perennial strugglers Italy among Europe’s elite.
Hogging the limelight
Scotland captain Stuart Hogg is a gifted full-back blessed with blistering pace and a siege-gun kick.
Yet his desperation to lead from the front sometimes worked against Scotland, and made it harder to dismiss Hogg’s dropping of the ball over the try-line in a 19-12 Six Nations defeat by Ireland earlier in the year as a one-off mistake.
Even Hogg said a missed kick to touch that might have led to a match-saving try in a 22-15 pool defeat by France was a “schoolboy error”.
And it was from his knock-on inside Scotland’s 22 that Ireland scored their second try in a 31-16 win on Saturday.
England coach Eddie Jones said that, ideally, an attack is something you wanted to complete as close as possible to a World Cup in order to keep your opponents guessing.
There were times in this tournament when 2019 losing World Cup finalists England, impressive in defence, appeared to prove his point.
But the lifelong Australian cricket fan turned to the summer game to explain why a last-gasp win over France was in fact an sign of England’s growing maturity.
“If people looked at us 12 months ago they would have looked at us as a ‘flat-track bully’,” said Jones.
“When things were going well our game was powerful, quick and inventive. Now when it is not, we were able to find a way to win.”
Mind your language
Some referees maintain a running commentary to the players in a bid to prevent matches being mired in repeated infringements.
In the case of French officials in charge of two English-speaking teams, neither side is worse off.
But if, as in Sunday’s final between England and France, the referee is a native English speaker, then the French players are at a significant disadvantage.
Irish referee Andrew Brace barked out numerous detailed commands in English on Sunday. If France were aggrieved about having to translate on the run, their mood wouldn’t have been improved by his failure to spot two knock-ons in the build-up to England’s try.